The Magazine

Tarheel Jihadist

The two faces of Daniel Patrick Boyd.

Aug 31, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 46 • By DAVEED GARTENSTEIN-ROSS
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Raleigh, North Carolina

The Shadow Lakes subdivision, about 30 minutes south of Raleigh, is seamlessly surrounded by the trees and tobacco fields of Johnston County. God and country are conspicuous here. American flags hang from porches. Nevertheless, at the time of his arrest as the ringleader of an alleged jihadist plot, this is where Daniel Patrick Boyd was living.

Boyd, two of his sons, three other young men, and another adult were indicted on July 22 on charges of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, as well as conspiring to murder, kidnap, and injure persons abroad. An eighth suspect is being sought in Pakistan. At the time of Boyd's arrest, his truck and home contained gas masks, 26 firearms, and 27,000 rounds of ammunition. The charge that a jihadist plot was centered here sent shock waves through Shadow Lakes.

In the course of nearly a week investigating the Boyd case in this area, I was struck by the contrasts in how the man is perceived. His neighbors have rallied around him, saying the indictment is inconsistent with the Boyd they knew; one called him "the best neighbor I've ever had." Spokespeople for some Muslim organizations in the area also quickly came to Boyd's defense. Yet others saw a different side of Boyd, a man who embraced Islamic militancy and spoke often of jihad.

Boyd, 39, is a convert to Islam. He was on a state high school football championship team in Virginia, and he remains a towering presence. He is known among local Muslims for his tales of fighting the Soviet Army beginning in 1989, when he was just 19. Though he was indeed in South Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his account of this period is exaggerated: Boyd arrived in Pakistan only after the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, and some of his stories (including one about a 23-day Soviet siege of a mujahedeen training camp) do not stand up to scrutiny.

In Shadow Lakes, Boyd lived with his wife Sabrina in a two-story mocha-colored house near a glittering pond. A few doors down, I spoke briefly with a neighbor, who was wearing a cross. Apparently on the verge of tears, she said the Boyds showed "nothing but total acceptance and empathy" and described them as "the best welcoming committee" for anyone new to the neighborhood.

Boyd's neighbors generally seemed unfazed by his religion. "The only difference between him and me is that he's a Muslim," said a skinny young man with shaggy blond hair who lives across the street from the Boyds and introduced himself as Jeremy.

His admiration for Boyd was evident as he fidgeted his way through a couple of cigarettes. He described Boyd as the neighborhood "advice-giver" for young people. "He would always have an unbiased opinion," Jeremy said. "He'd give you a different perspective on anything you wanted to talk with him about, saying that maybe you could look at it in a different way." Without much prodding, he added, "The first time he met me, he tried to convince me not to run away from home. It didn't work."

Jeremy was certain of Boyd's innocence, describing the evidence against him as "circumstantial." "I can't wait for this case to be over," he said, "so they can be out."

Boyd's neighbors were unaware of the time he'd spent in Pakistan/Afghanistan until it was reported in the media and said he didn't speak with them about hot-button political issues such as Israel or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Not everyone who knew Boyd had such a positive impression. Ramona McWhorter owns the Community Thrift Store in Garner, which occupies the space where Boyd once operated an Islamic shop. When I visited her there, the Muslim influence was apparent in the interior architecture and design, including four archways near the back. McWhorter complained that Boyd illegally entered the property and stole a number of storage shelves shortly before his arrest, an account corroborated by the owner of a store in the same strip mall. McWhorter suspected that Boyd had kept a key.

Larry Schug, a superintendent for Crawford-Dunn General Contractors who hired Boyd as a subcontractor, spoke to me on the porch of his red brick house in Zebulon. Schug was frustrated by Boyd's poor communication, complaining of unanswered calls. When Boyd did respond, he apparently preferred to phone Schug's brother or boss rather than Schug himself.

More interesting than this relatively minor complaint, Schug was aware of Boyd's militant orientation. Schug said he always assumed Boyd had been in the Special Forces, in part because of his enthusiasm for guns and apparent survivalist streak. This didn't bother Schug, an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment; in the past he discounted one electrician's suspicion of Boyd, dismissing the electrician as "an anti-gun liberal."

But the reservations these acquaintances expressed about Boyd do not begin to capture the other side of the man.